API IS an elusive mountain in the Byas Rikh Himal, which Henry Savage claimed to have climbed by the south face in 1899. However the 19711 and 1973 Japanese expeditions shied off the south face because of its formidable aspect and Renato Moro described the south face as impossibly swept by avalanches. With these rather encouraging reports, the twelve-man Army Mountaineering Association team decided to tackle the south face, which rises vertically 10,000 ft direct from the summer pastures. Study of photographs showed a possible ridge feature out of the main line of potential serac falls abutting onto the south face at 20,000 ft, which we thought might give the key to the face.

Api (The Grandfather) lying in the remote NW corner of Nepal near the tri Indian, Chinese and Nepalese frontier has been difficult of access for both political and physical reasons. It was first climbed in 1960 up the glaciated north face by a Japanese team who approached from India. Shortly after this, the area was closed until the 1970s although the Nepalese approach from the south has been open intermittently since then. The Japanese having looked at the south face, attempted the SW pillar, while an Italian expedition in 19772 made the second ascent from the south climbing to the col between Api and Nampa I and up the east ridge to the summit. However the recent opening of a good road from Dhanghadi to Dandeldhura, which will soon be extended to Baitadi, makes this a much more accessible region.


  1. See H.J. Vol. XXXI, p. 150.
  2. See H.J. Vol. 36, p. 184.—Ed.


Having spent two weeks in Kathmandu (1980) negotiating our supplies through customs, we eventually set off to drive via India to Dandeldhura. It was a fraught journey, because fuel rationing meant we could only buy 100 litres of diesel a time, which imposed long delays. Having reached Dandeldhura we ran into our first snag, because the west does not have a portering tradition. The few who do carry, were employed as porters building and maintaining the new roads. We were unable to recruit sufficient porters to carry all our freight in one go and so reluctantly split the party. The first group left with sufficient supplies to reach base camp. While Meryon Bridges with Rick Broad stayed with our Sirdar Ang Tsering Sherpa to recruit the required 100 porters from the outlying villages.

It is a fantastic approach march climbing slowly up to the ridges. First you follow the great crest lines with their panoramic views from Nanda Devi to the Api/Nampa group sweeping ahead. The way then plunges into the Chamlia valley for a ten-day haul up its steep gorges, to the 13,500 ft alp which provides the flat ground for base camp. The steady progress to the mountain is the most exciting and relaxed part of any expedition, because there is a slow build-up of tension as the objective approaches, coupled with a heightening of the senses as new experiences are absorbed. The flowers, the dynamite fishing in the Chamlia, the new faces, the rain and suddenly around a corner Api brings the whole team to life. It is a lovely walk through some delightful rhododendron forests then old pine forests and finally up the ever steepening river gorge through the bamboo clumps which reminded Dave Baggaley of Mt Kenya. To our dismay after a severe winter the snow-line was about 11,000 ft with the result that the site of base camp was under deep snow, which never thawed throughout the climb.

We spent two weeks at base camp, acclimatizing and recceing the route up the south face. We climbed to suitable vantage points, to view our potential route and to size up those parts of the face which appeared avalanche prone. During this period we were joined by Meryon Bridges and Rick Broad, who, having remained in Dandelhura to recruit more porters, brought up the bulk of the equipment. They had followed about a week behind us and with their arrival, our party was complete.

It was at this stage that Tim Finnegan, our Doctor, started the expedition's main scientific research programme. He was to carry out a series of ambulatory electro-encephalographic recordings at various altitudes from 14,000 to 21,000 ft using ambulatory monitoring equipment provided by Oxford Medical Systems. The aim was to ascertain changes in brain function at different altitudes. These tapes were to be compared with electro encephalographic recordings taken in the United Kingdom both before and after the expedition. The sight of a member wired up for 48 hours used to provide endless amusement for all those who were unencumbered by these devices.

At the end of the two weeks the assault on the mountain started in earnest. The route to Camp 1, although not technically difficult caused problems, because the spring snow was still unconsolidated and, even at night, the surface was not firm enough to bear a climber's weight. We compromised with a half-way temporary camp but when I led the first party up to place it, we were caught on the fringe of a mile-wide airborne powder snow avalanche which came off the Api/Nampa I col. {Severely frightened by this, we established mid-camp at the base of a small cliff below an overhang, but a heavy snowfall that evening caused another avalanche which half buried our camp and encouraged a rapid withdrawal to base camp.

Having given the snow a day or two to settle Meryon Bridges took a party up to the camp and managed to push a way through to the site of Camp 1. The deep snow forced us to take a more difficult route up steep snow-covered grass to avoid the snow-covered moraine which would have been the easier approach if clear. Camp 1 was perched just below the start of the climbing proper, at the foot of a narrow ridge, which rose in 4500 ft to meet the face itself just below the second hanging glacier.

The weather continued to plague the climb, with a series of fronts which brought in heavy snow on almost every third day. The new snow, combined with what the locals told us had been an exceptionally heavy winter snowfall, made climbing very difficult. Camp 1 was flattened a couple of times by snow slides coming off the rocks above giving Duncan Sperry a nasty few minutes while he was dug out after one slide.

From Camp 1 the route reached the crest of the ridge by way of a series of gullies (AD; 500 ft), which had the occasional rock problem. The deep snow was of a crystalline sugary consistency with no weight-bearing properties. This had to be compacted to make anything of a route. In addition it provided no secure place for belays, which had to be found by clearing snow off the rocks, which was time-consuming. This section was initially led by Stan Owen, but it took Meryon Bridges' group about 5 days to reach the ridge. Most of the climbing had to be done at night, because by 9.00 a.m. the sun had so melted the snow that any steps which had been built were utterly destroyed if used after they had thawed.

Once on the ridge the climbing progressed quite quickly up little grade III/IV rock problems interspaced with lovely snow crests. John Walsh and Duncan Sperry took the route up to what turned out to be the principal difficulty on the ridge. This was a 250 ft gendarme (V sup) which completely barred the way. The east and south faces were smooth vertical rock while the west face had some small breaks in it, which were barred by overhangs before its summit.

John Walsh and Meryon tackled this problem. They gained the rocks on the west side by a tongue of snow. Steep cracks led to an overhang which barred the way. This was turned by a tension traverse to the east followed by steep climbing to the summit. When load-carrying the tower was climbed by jumaring up vertical fixed ropes. Once this difficulty had been climbed we followed the crest line for a few more hundred feet, until we were forced to traverse for half a mile along the east flank. I had planned to take over the lead at this stage, but while following up the fixed ropes on the tower, a lump of ice was dislodged and hit me in the eye. I was blinded for about a week and thereafter was confined more or less to carrying up to Camp 1 from base camp.

At first the traverse was awkward rock and then a steep (70°) snow-slope just below the ridge crest under loose overhanging rocks until the crest could be gained again. Here we pitched camp 2 on the narrowest of ledges, perched above fearsome drops on all sides. To move from one tent to the other, pitched 50 ft above, was a major climbing undertaking!

It is very easy on an expedition to get delayed. The gullies and the tower had cost us dearly in time and so it was necessary to push ahead quickly. I sent John Arthy (sadly killed in the Falkland Island war) and Rick Broad into the lead as they were both strong and forceful climbers. In a matter of two days they tackled the ice-gully (D. inf) which turned the tower above Camp 2 on the west and gained the ridge above the rock difficulties at the base of the 'Pyramid*. A short steep snow slope led to Camp 3 which was comfortably pitched on the Pyramid, short of where it abutted onto the steep face above.

The next stage looked one of the most difficult and exposed sections of the face. First a nose similar to the Monch Nollen which ended below some impressive seracs had to be tackled. A long steep (65°) traverse below these led to a weakness which the party led by Dave Baggaley broke through onto the top of the second hanging glacier and the first flat ground on the climb. They now had a most dangerous section to negotiate, because the party had to climb on the serac avalanche-scoured icefield below the final hanging glacier. The route took a long (900 ft) ramp of hard ice, at first below the glacier and then bypassing it on the west side. This hard ice gave superb climbing. On the day that Andy Simkins led the final assault up this ramp, with Meryon Bridges and John Arthy in tow as the summit pair, Api again played its tricks. By 9.00 a.m. the party were in a heavy snowfall which caused avalanches while Camp 4 was hastily pitched, precariously perched under a creaking serac which gave some protection against the now continuous snow-slides. The support team leaving them to finish pitching the tent abseiled off into the snow and avalanches.

Meryon and John were trapped in their tent for the next 12 hours while huge snow-slides sloughed off, roaring over their heads. The tent was blattered by the back blast and the serac under which they were camped groaned continuously. We could all tell, from the radio schedules, what a strain they were under. Late that evening the snow eased off and with a cold night, they prepared for a summit bid. They left their camp at 2.00 a.m. on a very cold and windy night. They had to wade thigh deep in powder snow up the steep glacier to the foot of the final ice-slope.

As dawn broke, I anxiously began to scan the face from base camp and could just see the two black dots inching their way up the steep ice. Meryon says that the whole face was ribbed and runnelled with ice-ridges. They were climbing one of these on 70° ice with the runnels filled with a continuous roar of powder snow-avalanches which were being dislodged by the high winds in the upper face. The ice was hard and rotten so that protection was impossible, with the result that they elected to climb unroped. We watched them climbing steadily but as the morning progressed, they began to get slower and slower, until about 11.00 a.m., when they were seen to be making 50 ft per hour. At last John Arthy, when about 400 ft from the summit came up on the radio and in a voice that was almost inarticulate with dehydration and exhaustion said that they were turning back. In addition he had frostbite to his hands. With mixed emotions we watched them descend to their tent.

The next morning Andy Simkins and John Walsh went up the ramp to Camp 4 to help Meryon and John down and if possible to remain for a second summit bid. Having assisted John Arthy onto the fixed ropes they prepared for their attempt. They left camp at noon, but by the time they reached the ice-slope, a thunderstorm had come in. Heavy snow began and they had to shelter against the avalanches of snow in the bergschrund until dawn, before beating a hasty retreat down the mountain.

With the team extended, supplies running low and John Arthy in need of assistance down the mountain, I decided that we had had our fling and so gave the order to evacuate the mountain. This was completed over the next three days.

We had come near succeeding, but must leave Api south face to another team, in the years to come. Our return march to Kath-mandu, with missed planes, arrested trucks, train journeys and floods, is another story.


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